How to Identify Worms in a Cat

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Vet holding large cat in office.
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If your kitty hasn't been feeling well, intestinal parasites could be to blame. These worm-like pests live in her intestines, leaching away the nutrients from her food and sometimes even her blood. To determine if your feline friend is suffering from intestinal parasites, bring her to a vet to diagnose which type of pest is plaguing her.


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Signs of Intestinal Parasites

The most common types of intestinal parasites to infect cats include tapeworms, roundworms and hookworms. If your cat is infested with any of these parasites, she may look unwell, vomit and have diarrhea or appear bloated. In the case of a tapeworm infestation, you might find small, white, rice-like parts of the parasitic worms in her feces or near her backside stuck to her fur. Some cats with roundworms may vomit them up or expel the parasites in their feces. These parasites look like strands of spaghetti. The only way to identify these parasites definitively is for your vet to perform a fecal test on your cat.


Direct Fecal Analysis

To diagnose the type of parasites your cat is suffering from, your vet will need a stool sample to analyze. He'll likely ask you to bring one from your kitty, taken within the last 24 hours, into the office. Take one from your kitty's litter box, and keep it in a sealed container with a moist paper towel. Store it in a cool place such as the refrigerator to prevent any eggs in it from hatching. Your vet can inspect the sample and examine a smear of it under a microscope to look for parasites or parasite eggs to properly identify them. This method is especially useful in detecting tapeworms, which don't shed their eggs in the feces but rather segments of themselves containing the eggs.


Fecal Flotation

Using a fecal sample from your cat, your vet may perform a fecal flotation test to determine if she has intestinal parasites, in addition to the direct examination of it. Part of the sample is mixed with a special solution, and after 20 minutes, any parasite eggs present in the feces rise to the top, according to the Norwalk Animal Hospital website. Your vet examines any eggs skimmed off the top of the solution and makes a definitive diagnosis of the type of intestinal parasite your cat is suffering with.


It's important for your vet to determine which type of parasite your cat is infected with because deworming medications are usually parasite-specific. Some medications only kill tapeworms, for example. The deworming medications might be administered in several ways, including injections and orally. During treatment, you may find dead parasites in your cat's feces if she is treated for roundworms, according to veterinarian Eric Barchas of the website.


Testing After Treatment

After administering your cat's first dose of dewormer, you might need to give doses two to three more times, several weeks apart. This is because the medication may kill the mature intestinal parasites, but not their larvae, which can then reinfect your kitty. After treatment, your vet will re-examine your feline friend, performing another fecal test and fecal flotation to see if the parasites are truly gone from her system. The vet might prescribe a monthly preventative medication to help prevent future problems with intestinal parasites.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.